The Various Types of Cannabis Plants

The Cannabis plant is known to have been used for over 12,000 years for medicinal, religious, recreational, and industrial purposes. It’s a highly-sought after plant that is thought to have originated in Northern India that was transported around the world and adopted by most cultures globally. Incredibly versatile and able to adapt to a broad variety of conditions, the plant thrived almost everywhere it was spread. It is only in the last 150 years that the plant became associated with some bad behaviour and came to have negative connotations. Although the negative connotations were all associated with a single type of use of the plant, every usage was negatively impacted and driven out of common culture. As a result of the demonization of the plant, knowledge as to how cannabis was used for medical purposes that were acquired over millennia of use was lost within two generations. This loss is a true human tragedy and a warning sign of the fragility of our knowledge-based advances.

There are hundreds of varietals of the cannabis plant, but generally, they are classified into four groups: Hemp, Sativa, Indica, and rarely Ruferalis.

  • Cannabis Sativa

As with many things associated with the discussion of Cannabis, there is a misuse of the term Sativa. The term “Sativa” means “things that are cultivated,” therefore any form of Cannabis that is cultivated is a Cannabis Sativa plant. However, commonly people refer to Indica and Sativa to define the effect of the product. Sativas are known for an invigorating, energizing effect that can help reduce anxiety or stress and increase creativity and focus, whereas Indicas are typically associated with increasing deep relaxation and reducing insomnia. Indicas are also recognized as the high-THC varietals that are highly sought after for recreational use.

Cannabis as a whole is part of the Rosales order of plants and specifically part of the family Cannabaceae. The family includes about 11 genera (plural of Genus) which most notably include the entire cannabis family (including Hemp), Hops, and Celtis which is comprised of nettles and hackberries.

There’s nothing wrong with using the terms Indica and Sativa in this way, as it’s how language usage has evolved. However, when speaking with a grower it is better to be more precise and refer to varietals by dominance; THC dominant / CBD dominant, auto-flowering, etc.

  • Hemp

A form of the Cannabis Sativa plant is also known as hemp. These are ultra-low THC plant varietals cultivated for purposes other than the production of cannabinoids, but wherein the production of CBD is still possible. The quantity of CBD produced by the plant is very low, and thus it’s only produced for extraction from large-scale outdoor grow operations. Throughout History, hemp has been grown for its seeds, oils and fibres. Hemp ropes were commonly used on sailing ships due to their high strength and long life under heavy usage. This is why people often refer to it as ‘industrial hemp’, which at the same time has the effect of setting it apart from the medical and recreational use plants.

The term Hemp itself refers to the soft and durable fibre made from the plant’s stalk. Certain varietals of cannabis can grow up to almost 20′ / 6m tall, and their long fibres are processed post-harvest to make Hemp. Other than ropes, Hemp fibres are also converted into fabrics for clothing, paper and even construction materials.

In the US, “industrial hemp” is classified by the federal government under the Farm Bill Act of 2018 as cannabis containing no more than 0.3% THC by dry weight.

  • Sativa

Cannabis Sativa plants are taller and less bushy than their Indica counterparts. In general, the leaves are also a lighter shade of green. These plants are disposed to perform better in warmer climates. Generally, people find that cannabis obtained from Sativa plants provides a more energizing and creative high. In contrast to Indicas, Sativas can cause anxiety in some people. Sativa has also been noted as being helpful for people who are dealing with depression as it has a more stimulating effect. Like Indica some Sativas also help with headaches, nausea, and appetite loss. In general, Sativa plants contain more THC than CBD, but the combination of other cannabinoids and terpenes in the plant results in different effects.

As with the other varietals, for some people Cannabis products from the Sativa plants have very different effects than on other people. Some even find Sativas help them sleep, whereas others are energized by its use. Our body’s response to cannabis is highly personalized, and likely reflects varying strengths and weaknesses in our individual Endogenous cannabinoid Systems.

In a quest to obtain higher and more consistent yields with better disease resistance from the plant, growers have created a large number of hybrids. As a result, some plants labelled as Sativa or Indica are actually hybrids, which also results in people’s responses to particular varietals being less standardized. This is not a deficiency, and in fact, for some, it means that the hybrid has more benefits to the individual user than either a Sativa or Indica alone.

  • Indica

Cannabis indica tends to be shorter and more broad-leafed THC dominant plants, thought to originate from cooler areas. Indica plants are extremely beneficial for the production of medical cannabis as there are a lot of medicinal benefits to THC that Indica plants provide, most notably as a powerful painkiller for a variety of conditions. Also extremely useful as a sleep aid for insomniacs and as part of an anti-anxiety regimen, the cannabinoids and terpenes found in these plants are also recognized to be a factor in appetite, hence the colloquialism “munchies”, which is extremely beneficial for people with anorexia and patients undergoing cancer treatment to stimulate hunger.

Cannabis use based on Indica plants is favoured at nighttime or to help people relax, however, some varietals will provide you results normally derived from a Sativa plant. For this reason, users are urged to monitor their own benefits and determine which varietals provide them with the desired results.

  • Ruderalis

Cannabis Ruderalis is a low-THC varietal of Cannabis native to Eastern Europe. Some industry participants view Ruderalis as a distinct species of the plant, with unique traits, whereas some argue that is a sub-species of Sativa, and refer to it as Cannabis Sativa variant Ruderalis. Unlike other species of cannabis, Ruderalis enters its flowering stage based on the maturity of the plant, as opposed to being triggered by the amount of light received during the day.

Owing to the plant’s flowering cycle being based on maturity, it is referred to as an auto-flowering plant. Accordingly, Ruderalis varietals are often bred with sativa and indica varietals of cannabis to create new auto-flowering varietals for outdoor grows that are designed to express the cannabinoids and terpene profiles of the Indica or Sativa plants while gaining the simplified and reduced production time of a Ruderalis. However, due to Ruderalis’ low-THC nature, varietals cross-bred with it typically remain CBD dominant. Their CDB dominant profile makes them an excellent choice for the production of wellness products, but less desirable for growers targeting the adult-use or recreational cannabis market.

In the future, once federal legalization occurs and mass-market CPG (Consumer Packaged Goods) companies enter the wellness space, it should be expected that there will be large scale cultivation of Ruderalis varietals to ensure a constant supply of raw materials of CDB and other minor cannabinoids. At this point, the market for CDB will be truly commoditized, and outdoor grows in South America and other areas offering low-cost/year-round production will become the dominant source of supply.